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Summer salads are both a delight and a problem. If you are making a meal for yourself or your family, there is no end to the amazing ways you can celebrate the abundance of summer produce, from simple salads highlighting the tender leafy greens sprouting in your gardens and window boxes, to composed salads full of vegetables and fruits. (If you are in need of salad inspiration, look no further than the extraordinary newsletter The Department of Salad from author and journalist Emily Nunn.)

The problem comes when you are looking to entertain, especially outdoors. Salads that are perky and fresh in the kitchen can get wilted and wan in the backyard or at the beach. And any salad with a lettuce base begins to die as soon as it is dressed.

The solution: a summer salad made from the pantry!

And while it might be shocking, my favorite summer salad for entertaining is not one that takes much advantage of the seasonal bounty of the garden, but rather makes some excellent use of pantry ingredients and grocery store staples. I call it my Hearts Salad, and it is a great base for experimentation.

A combination of canned hearts of palm and frozen or canned artichoke hearts, the salad gets freshness and crunch from celery hearts and cucumber, and a subtle texture and balancing bitterness from raw zucchini. A punchy Dijon shallot vinaigrette brings them together. The best part? No wilting. The salad stays fresh for hours, and is great cold or at room temp. There is no dairy or mayo, so it can sit out for a while with no danger. And leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a day or two and still be delicious. (I love leftovers for lunch topped with flaked canned tuna or shredded chicken, or as a side dish for a slice of quiche or frittata.)

Credit: Getty / mediaphotos

How to make Hearts Salad

Serves 6 people

1 can hearts of palm, sliced

1 medium zucchini, quartered and seeds removed, sliced about ¼ inch thick

1 English or seedless cucumber, quartered and seeds removed, sliced about ¼ inch thick

1 heart of celery, sliced on the bias ¼ inch thick, including the tender inner leaves

1 box frozen quartered artichoke hearts, thawed (or 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and patted dry)

Dijon Shallot Vinaigrette to taste (this recipe will do enough dressing for 12 people, multiply up as needed):

¼ cup sherry vinegar (or apple cider or champagne vinegar)

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon honey

2-3 large shallots, peeled and chopped coarsely 

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper 

¾ cup avocado oil (or other light neutral oil)

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

Chopped chives to garnish

I do this with my immersion blender, but you can use a regular blender or a food processor. If you want a more rustic vinaigrette that isn't so creamy and emulsified, chop the shallots very fine and simply whisk dressing together.

Here's how to make the dressing: 

1. Mix vinegar with honey until honey is dissolved and then add shallots. Let sit for 10 minutes (this will help take some of the bite out of the shallots; if you like the dressing less mild, skip the wait time). 

2. With the appliance of your choice, process the vinegar/shallot blend with Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper until smooth. With the processor running, add the oil in a small stream until all the oil has been incorporated and the dressing has achieved a silky, smooth texture. Taste for seasoning. (If you like a sweeter dressing, add more honey to taste; if you like it sharper, add more Dijon mustard.)

3. When you think your seasoning is correct, stir in the whole grain mustard for little pops of texture and punch. The dressing may be stored, covered, for up to one week in the refrigerator, but should be brought to room temperature before using.

4. Toss vegetables with dressing and serve! 

Once you know the base and dressing, feel free to get creative to make it your own. You can add other hardy items like radishes or carrots or get some pops of fruity acid with whole grape tomatoes or those adorable pea-sized Tomberry tomatoes. Add toasted slivered almonds or pine nuts for crunch.